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Kadena Child Care Centers host cultural exchange

By: Theresa Amlong

Date Posted: 1999-04-02

Approximately 35 Okinawan childcare directors from centers surrounding Kadena Air Base recently toured Kadena's Niko Niko and Wakaba Child Development Centers. Their aim was to gain exposure to the American system and insight to new ideas.

On a monthly basis, these directors -- whose private child development centers are licensed by the Okinawan local city government -- get together to exchange ideas and discuss ways of improving. This month the directors called on Parish Administrator Abeleth Cochi from All Souls Church to arrange a look at the American centers. All Souls Church currently has three childcare centers. "We all look for ways to improve our system," says Cochi.

Arriving at Niko Niko, the directors enjoyed a brief history of the center by Director Mary Allgood before beginning their tour. After introductions, the group toured the Niko Niko facility, peering into classrooms and smiling at the curious children. "I like the cleanliness of the center," said one man as he peered into an infant room. "The caregivers wash their hands quite often." The group also toured the laundry facilities, kitchen, offices and playgrounds.

Of particular interest was the center's method of placing kids. Local Okinawan parents who wish to place their child in a day care facility must first register with the city office who then assigns the child to a particular center. In addition, a child must be at least six months old before being placed in a local day care center. The amazed directors learned that the base centers will accept babies at six weeks of age. The directors were also surprised by the student-to-teacher ratio. There are 30 four and five year olds per teacher at most off-base facilities. At Niko Niko, the ratio is only 12 to one.

Traditionally, the Japanese system denies individuality, forcing everyone to conform to a group. Recently the Education Minister in Japan came forth with new education guidelines recognizing each child as an individual. The Okinawan childcare centers must now strive to recognize the uniqueness of each child in their curriculum.

Due to the new education guidelines, the conscientious directors have been examining various curriculums. To their delight, the directors found that methods which they have been studying in books were being put into practice at the base centers where the curriculum is child-choice centered. All DoD child development centers use a developmentally appropriate curriculum based on children's choices.

While touring the centers on base, the Okinawan visitors were expecting an entirely American atmosphere, but discovered that the kids were learning some Okinawan culture as well. At Wakaba the visitors admired the children's artwork on display, impressed with the effort of the teachers to come up with art from different cultures. Says Allgood, "The local nationals we employ add much cultural richness to our program and are a great addition to our staff." Niko Niko currently has about 10 local nationals employed there and Wakaba will soon employ five.

"I was surprised at how interested they were in what we did," said Allgood about the local visitors. "I enjoyed the time to communicate and exchange ideas. I expect some good future exchanges."

The visiting childcare directors were extremely impressed with the curriculum of the Kadena facilities. But American and Japanese systems are not entirely different. When told, while on their tour of Niko Niko, that each parent receives an end-of-day report on their child, they all nodded in agreement. "We do that too," said Hidehiro Matsuda of the Star of Love Preschool in Okinawa City.

"Everyone was impressed by what they have learned," said Cochi. "We are looking at reversing the exchange in the near future."

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